Nowadays cross-national marriages between American guys and Russian girls come as no surprise. It is well-known that Russia boasts beautiful ladies while the United States is the homeland for many single men.
According to immigration solicitors, one of the issues related to the registration of American-Russian family unions is the proportion of sham marriages. The decision to grant an immigration permit or a Green Card is up to the officials of the corresponding immigration authorities, and the eventual outcome depends on their perception of how serious your romantic relationship with a Russian bride is and whether no misleading information has been provided by the couple during the registration procedure.
Yet, if the existence of a love affair and mutual life perspectives between an American man and a Russian woman is anything but questionable, there can hardly be any potential difficulties related to the solemnisation of marriage. To clarify this issue, we have spoken to our U.S. attorney Lidia Lowsen. This conversation produced several useful pieces of information and tips for a smooth registration of marriage with Russian ladies, which we are glad to share with you below.
Marriages between American men and Russian women can occur in three different ways:
- A girl arrives at the United States for working, studying, medical, or touristic purposes and subsequently meets her other half which she desires to marry.
- A girl moves to the United States with the purpose to find an American boyfriend and obtain a K-1 visa that is granted to future spouses of the American citizens.
- A guy moves to Russia where he subsequently meets a girl with a Russian citizenship and proposes to her.
Each scenario has its advantages and drawbacks, which have a direct impact on the marriage registration procedure.
The first scenario presents the biggest number of difficulties since neither of the future spouses could foresee such a course of events and have now to solve certain issues for the Russian girl to become a legitimate U.S. citizen. The achievement of this goal requires making the following steps: submitting an application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), passing an interview, and obtaining a conditional Green Card that will enable the bride to become a legal U.S. resident with no limitations whatsoever. The procedure is conducted in compliance with the federal immigration law which is universal for all the American states. Hence, it does not matter whether you are a Washington resident or come from California.
Apart from the marriage certificate, USCIS will require several other documents. They include a copy of the bride’s birth certificate, certificate of divorce or death of the previous husbands (if any), a copy of the bride’s external passport, her visa and a 1-94 card (a special form that all the foreign citizens get at the US border before being temporarily admitted into the country). Each of the above-mentioned documents should be accompanied by a certified translation into English.
Some USCIS offices require a sealed medical certificate to be produced on the day of submitting the documents. Such a certificate should be obtained in one of the authorized medical centres. There are special USCIS offices that offer on-site medical checkups, so the Russian female applicant can be spared the obligation to visit a specific American hospital or medical centre. Besides, this enables the lady to have a medical checkup on the day of the interview and not necessarily before submitting the documents. Please bear in mind that to avoid numerous problems in the future, the envelope with the medical certificate must in no case be opened by the applicants.
In a USCIS office, the young couple is required to fill in a large number of other documents. In particular, the husband has to fill in a 1-130 form (Petition for Alien Relative) while his Russian wife will be asked to fill in a 1-485 form (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status), after which both applicants will have to fill in a G-325 form (Biographic Information). These forms contain predominantly simple biographical questions: your surname, name and patronymic, date of birth, country of origin, home address, place of studying or work, etc. It is highly recommended to give truthful answers to all the questions. Iа you put your signature under the false data provided by your wife, you may receive a penalty equal to $25,000 or even go to jail since the provision of false information is strictly prohibited in the United States. Sure enough, the risk of imprisonment is rather low but, nevertheless, you may be required to leave the country.
American husbands are required to produce a number of financial documents, including tax declarations for the past three years, and the certificate proving that your annual income exceeds the poverty threshold by at least 25%. Currently, the poverty line in the United States ranges from $10,000 to $12,000, so your gross annual income should be no less than $15,000. Such a requirement is quite reasonable since American husbands shall assume financial responsibility not only for themselves but for their Russian wives as well.
A small nuance of this procedure is that Russian women are given the right to make an application to adjust status (in our case – from the non-immigration to the immigration one) only after having lived in the United States for several months. Otherwise, USCIS officials may conclude that the applicant, in her attempt to get a U.S. entry visa, provided false information, stating that she entered the country for studying or medical purposes while in reality her only goal was a marriage to an American man. Taking into consideration that the marriage is already registered, the 1-130 form filled by the husband will most probably be approved while the wife’s 1-485 will not. The female applicant will most likely be asked to return to her home country and proceed to the preparation of the Green Card document in one of the US embassy offices.
After having submitted all the required documents, the couple can settle in the United States awaiting the invitation to an interview. This can take up to 1-2 years, during which the wife will be able to work on the U.S. territory (upon filing a 1-765 form and obtaining a Work Permit) and occasionally travel abroad. It should be borne in mind, though, that after coming from such foreign trips back to the United States, the Russian citizen will lose the opportunity to use her American visa and will no longer be entitled to the privileges obtained on the basis of the non-visa regime. Therefore, in case of a necessity to travel abroad, your wife will have to get the so-called “password” issued by a local immigration office, which will enable her to occasionally leave the United States and then come back.
After a long waiting period, applicants are invited to the interview that aims at ascertaining whether their marriage is real and assessing their eligibility for U.S. citizenship. Here several aspects should be paid attention to.
One of the questions contained in the G-325 form that the spouses are required to fill in during the submission of the documents is their place of residence in the past 5 years. In most cases, they state that they have been living together for some time. A year or a year and a half later, during an interview, the spouses can prove their previous statement by providing mutual tax declarations, common property ownership certificates, joint bank account statements, car purchase documents, and other official proofs of their family union. Sure enough, the most indisputable proof is the presence of common children.
However, not all the spouses are able to come to an interview together and provide the immigration officials with all the necessary information. In certain cases the family life goes quite successfully, but, for one reason or another, the couple is forced to live separately. This happens, for instance, if your wife failed to find a job in your city and had to move to another locality for working purposes. Another scenario is that after the wedding the woman had to come back to Russia to complete her studies, arrange some business affairs, or take care of her gravely ill mother. Each of these situations is an absolutely justified reason for not leaving together. However, during the submission of the documents, the couple should give a detailed explanation of their situation and stress that it has no impact whatsoever on their desire to resume family cohabitation as soon as it will be possible.
Normally, no complications take place in such occasions. After a while, the American embassy in Moscow (the only office on the Russian territory that engages in solving immigration matters) will receive a response from USCIS, which will most probably be positive. After that, the Russian citizen will only have to go to the embassy, answer 2-3 final questions, and get her Green Card.
It should be also borne in mind that the American mentality is quite different from the Russian one in terms of defining whether a marriage is real or sham. The Russian approach to this issue is less pragmatic, so in Russia the situation when the newlyweds continue enjoying separate lives without intending to move under the same roof is somewhat unacceptable, though in the United States it is common practice. That is why the American immigration authorities generally treat cross-national marriages quite loyally, so the proportion of refuses is rather small.
Another scenario is a marriage between an elderly American and a young Russian girl. Such a union will most unlikely be called sham; it will rather be defined as a marriage of convenience. There is nothing shameful if the man in his 60s or 70s wants to live with a young and attractive woman, which, in her turn, wishes to improve her material well-being thanks to her elderly husband. Both parties have the right to lead their lives as they like, so no government authority can dictate the terms of their marriage.
To sum up, it is now clear that the successful outcome of the document submission procedure depends not only on how real your family relationship is but also on the correctness and truthfulness of the information you provide. Take care of all the papers, be honest during the compilation of the immigration forms, and speak openly and in detail during the interview – and neither you nor your Russian wife will encounter any obstacles in the process of legalising her stay on the U.S. territory.
The Stokes interview
A secondary interview that the spouses are required to pass for the immigration purposes is called the Stokes interview. It is believed to have a very unique and interesting story that began in the 1970s.
Back then, cross-national couples were obliged to pass interviews during which they had to give answers to a variety of questions. Some of them were rather intimate and sometimes went beyond the pale. In 1975 a certain Mr. Stokes came to the Immigration Service with his wife and, having heard several obscene allegations, got very much insulted and decided to take legal action against the local officials. After rather long judicial proceedings, the Court eventually delivered a judgement that recognised the validity of Mr. Stokes’s claims. Since then immigration officials were prohibited from asking private questions that discredited honour and dignity of the visitors. As for the interview, it was named after the brave Mr. Stokes.
Fortunately, vast professional experience of the immigration officials enables them to perceive the difference between decency and indecency very acutely. For example, they can easily ask a childless couple whether they intend to have children in the future, or touch upon such an issue as the means of contraception that the spouses use to avoid unwanted pregnancy. However, you will never be asked about the anatomy of your wife’s private parts, just like your wife will not be required to confess whether she experiences orgasms while having sexual intercourse with you. The officials who dare to ask such questions, risk to be prosecuted, not to mention lose their job.
Yet, it should be noted that an overwhelming majority of questions at the Stokes interview are quite innocent. The female applicant will be asked to name the date of acquaintance with her husband, his favourite sports, food preferences, clothing style, etc. The goal of the interview does not lie in checking the woman’s self-restraint, good manners and strong nerves. The correctness of the answers is not important as long as the answers of both spouses are identical.
After the interview is successfully passed, all the documents will be sent for the issuance of the Green Card. A small nuance here is that in case the timeframe between the marriage registration and the interview is less than two years, your wife will first get a so-called conditional Green Card that will subsequently have to be exchanged for a permanent one, to avoid losing the right to use such a permit. Typically, the exchange of a conditional Green Card for a permanent one is a merely formal procedure. However, immigration officials may undertake additional examination, and in case the validity of your marriage is questionable, you and your wife may be interviewed once again.
If the marriage was registered more than two years ago, the wife will get an unconditional Green Card that does not have to be further changed or prolonged. This will be the final point on your long legal and bureaucratic path towards the obtainment of the residence permit.
Now let’s study the second marriage scenario, when your Russian girlfriend arrives in the United States especially for your future wedding. Such a trip will require getting a special fiancé(e) K-1 nonimmigrant visa.
First of all, you have to make an application to USCIS with a request to allow your bride to enter the country (a 1-129 form). The application will be approved only if you provide proofs that you are well acquainted with the woman in question and have been co-living with her for the past two years (or at least have met her often over this time, maintained correspondence with her and called her regularly). Exceptions are made only if the two people are prohibited from seeing each other before their wedding due to severe religious traditions.
Once the application is approved, it will be sent to the U.S. embassy in Moscow. After that the Russian citizen will be fully entitled to submit documents for the registration of a K-1 visa.
The obtainment of a fiancé(e) K-1 nonimmigrant visa is not a simple procedure but it is rarely associated with serious difficulties. The list of documents required for the application for such a visa is the same as in USCIS. Moreover, the arrival at the United States with a K-1 visa is in a sense a much more convenient option.
One of the advantages is the opportunity to take a medical checkup in Russia. Sure enough, this should be done in one of the authorised medical centres but the patient will be able to communicate with the personnel in her native language. Later, while applying for a Green Card, she will not be required to undergo a medical checkup once again. Besides, when coming to the United States as the American citizen’s fiancée, your Russian girlfriend will be able to sign the necessary working documents right in the airport and get a work permit (after you submit an I-765 form), so you will be spared the necessity to retrieve this document in one of USCIS offices.
At the same time, a K-1 visa has several disadvantages. The first one is the impossibility to change it for any other visa. This is explained by the fact that if a foreign lady intends to marry an American man, she must obviously be in no need of examining other travel opportunities. Besides, such a visa cannot be prolonged, so the marriage shall be registered within 90 days after your fiancée’s arrival at the United States. If the couple fails to contract matrimony within this deadline, the foreign citizen will get the status of an illegal alien and will be subject to immediate deportation with all the related consequences, including a temporary prohibition to entry the United States and possible difficulties with future visa application.
If the marriage is registered in due course, both spouses will have to visit a USCIS office to fill in a 1-485 form. After that, the wife will be interviewed and will get her conditional (and then permanent) Green Card. By the way, 1-485 forms are considered slightly quicker than other immigration documents, so the waiting period till the interview and the subsequent issuance of the Green Card will be reduced from one year to several months.
Finally, the third option is to register the marriage in Russia. The difference between this scenario and the first two ones is that the couple has first to solemnize their family union and then start preparing documents for applying for the wife’s Green Card. Meanwhile, the spouses will have to live in Russia, and this can prove to be a rather difficult mission.
The only place in Moscow where a Russian woman can marry a foreign man is the Civil registry office No.4. In order to become husband and wife, the couple will be given a certain period of time (from 32 days to 2 months) which serves for submitting a marriage registration form and preparing all the required documents.
Once the marriage certificate is issued, you and your Russian wife will have to visit the U.S. embassy which is open daily from 2 PM. From now on, your fate will depend only on the decision of an embassy official who will conduct an interview and decide whether to grant (or not to grant) your wife the immigration status. In this case there will be no communication with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalisation Service whatsoever. Fortunately, such a scenario is the least time-consuming one, since the U.S. citizens who work for the Russian immigration authorities always try to help their compatriots and hence are most unlikely to doubt the invalidity of your marriage. On the other hand, they have precise instructions, just like other government officials, so be prepared to provide truthful and detailed information for whatever question you are going to be asked.
After you pay a visit to the embassy, take an interview and sign all the required documents, you will be able to return to the U.S. Meanwhile, your wife will temporarily remain in Russia in order to prepare for the immigration. Within 30 days from the interview she will receive an invitation to the U.S. embassy, after which she will finally become a lucky Green Card holder.
The registration of marriage between with a Russian woman requires producing the following documents:
・ Your U.S. passport and its certified translation into Russian.
・ Your Russian visa certified in the Visa and registration office.
・ Marital status certificate issued by the administration of the American city of your residence, its apostilled version (notary attestation made in the U.S. or in the U.S. embassy in Moscow), and its certified translation into Russian.
・ Certificate of judgement that confirms the annulment of marriage with the previous spouse (if applicable), its apostilled version, and its certified translation into Russian.
Your wife, for her part, will have to prepare the following documents:
・ Russian passport.
・ Temporary permit to take residence in Moscow, issued by a police office (for non-Muscovites).
・ Marriage annulment certificate (if applicable).
As we now see, a cross-national marriage between an American man and a Russian woman is a rather complicated procedure that takes from a couple of months to two years. Nevertheless, there is nothing impossible for people in love, so if you prepare all the required documents and pass all the necessary stages of the registration process, your wife will get her Green Card with no major complications and will be able to settle with you in the U.S. for a happy and prosperous life.